July 30, 2019
REGION: Global

In “Development Dimensions of Drug Policy: Innovative Approaches,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provides detailed examples of UN Member States that have utilized the current flexibility in international drug control conventions to support rural development, establish alternatives to incarceration for low-level drug offences, address gender-specific issues and palliative care access issues, and address policies related to the death penalty in the context of drug-related crime, in an effort to better support the needs of their citizens.


According to the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) 2016 Outcome Document, current flexible international drug control conventions allow states to implement national drug strategies that suit their individual situations, as in the cases described below.


Drug cultivation in rural areas often stems from a lack of rights to secure arable land, credit, or income, especially for women, who historically could only obtain land titles through a male relative. The Outcome Document highlights the development of job opportunities, improved infrastructure, and public services, specifically regarding land titles for farmers.

Coca in Bolivia: Bolivia launched its “coca yes, cocaine no” policy in 2004, which permits registered farmers to cultivate up to 2,500 square meters of coca as a means of subsistence income. This initiative continued with funding from the European Union in 2008. Bolivia monitors and restricts coca planting to pursue integrated rural development, stabilize household incomes, and support transition to alternative crops. 48% of coca-related land titles were held by women as of 2016.


UNDP advocates for the decriminalization of possession and related activities for personal use in drug conventions. UNGASS and UNDP promote “alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases” to more effectively protect public health. The report argues that decriminalization also counteracts harmful consequences related to drug offenses that disproportionally affect women and marginalized communities. States have most frequently used this legal flexibility to remove criminal penalties for small-quantity private use, either in law, or in practice, by instructing police to avoid arrests in such cases.

Pre-Booking in Seattle: In Seattle, a pre-booking diversion program was created which allows law enforcement to redirect low-level offenders to community resources like drug treatment, community housing, or legal and employment services.


Poor or marginalized women incarcerated for nonviolent drug-related crimes are the fastest growing percentage of the prison population worldwide. Several countries, including Argentina, Colombia, and Costa Rica, have enacted reforms to reduce harmful consequences of incarceration which disproportionately affect women.

Women in Costa Rica: Special considerations have been made for prosecution of women who work as drug couriers unknowingly or by means of coercion, those who care for small children or the disabled, and those who come from high-risk circumstances. If these conditions are met, judges in Costa Rica can sentence below the minimum established for the offence.


The report notes that states which have introduced these reforms in drug control policy often must reevaluate their death penalty policies, especially in instances of decriminalization. According to UNGASS, the death penalty must be restricted to the “most serious crimes,” and UNDP argues that drug offenses do not fall under this umbrella. Despite the rise in drug reform, 40% of all executions worldwide from 2008-2018 were for drug-related offenses.

Dangerous Drugs in Malaysia: In 2017, the Malaysian Parliament introduced reforms which allow discretion in the application of the death penalty in drug cases where low-level offenders have cooperated with law enforcement. However, this law only applies to those who had not yet been convicted when the amendment came into effect.


These innovative measures show how drug policy and human development objectives can function concurrently. The examples in this article showcase examples of practical approaches to address drug-related issues in a variety of circumstances and still deliver on the UN Member States’ pledge to leave no one behind.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Development Dimensions of Drug Policy: Innovative Approaches

Highlighted Publications

South Asia
Image Source: United States Institute of Peace

Displacement and the Vulnerability to Mobilize for Violence: Evidence from Afghanistan

Central Asia

Istanbul Protocol Implementation in Central Asia: Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe

Image Source: Pexels

Bridging the Elite-Grassroots Divide Among Anticorruption Activists

Image Source: ICITAP

ICITAP Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2018-2022